Tennessee’s new Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) has been heralded as a model for other states to follow, according to a new report released on Tuesday by the Brookings Institute, a private nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions. The competitive grant program provides for cooperative efforts between government, education and businesses to fill the skills gaps in the local workforce pool, while increasing the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees. It allows students at Tennessee’s technology centers and colleges the opportunity to combine occupational training in a high-skill or high-technology industry with academic credit and to apply that experience toward a degree.
The report, America’s Advanced Industries: What they are, Where they are and Why they Matter, praises LEAP, along with the state’s Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs. Tennessee Promise provides two years of free attendance for high school graduates at a state community college or college of applied technology (TCATs), while Tennessee Reconnect provides tuition-free certificate training at the state’s TCATs. The three programs bolster the state’s Complete College Tennessee Act and “Drive to 55” initiative with the common goal of raising the percentage of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees from 32 to 55 percent by 2025.
“States should facilitate and support ‘bottom-up’ efforts to align labor with demand regionally through the workforce development and skills education system,” the report said. “Only through robust partnerships and open channels of communication can the public sector hope to respond to the rapidly changing needs of local advanced industry employers.”
Experts maintain that within the next five years, over half of all jobs in Tennessee will require postsecondary credentials beyond a high school degree.